Chelsea Manning has ended a hunger strike after the military agreed to provide her with gender-affirmation surgery, she and her attorneys announced today.
Manning began the hunger strike five days ago to protest her treatment in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Manning, a transgender woman and former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, is serving a 35-year sentence for sharing classified documents with whistleblower site WikiLeaks in 2010.
Government officials showed Manning a memo stating that she will receive the surgery because of the Department of Defense's new policy embracing transgender service members and providing them with all necessary medical treatment, including procedures related to gender transition. If Manning indeed receives the surgery, it will mark a first for transgender prisoners, military or civilian, notes a press release from Fight for the Future, a digital rights group supporting Manning.
"I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing," Manning said in a statement issued through her attorneys. "I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted -- for them to let me be me. But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long. Also, why were such drastic measures needed? The surgery was recommended back in April 2016. The recommendations for my hair length [to be allowed to conform to grooming standards for women, not men] were back in 2014. In any case, I hope this sets a precedent for the thousands of trans people behind me hoping they will be given the treatment they need."
However, the military will still try to force Manning to conform to male standards for hair length and other aspects of grooming, and she still faces the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement on charges related to her suicide attempt in July -- even though the suicide attempt "was precipitated by the government's refusal to adequately treat her for gender dysphoria," said Chase Strangio, her attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, in an ACLU press release.
"Given the recognition of Chelsea's health care needs, we hope that she is immediately permitted to grow her hair consistent with the standard for female military prisoners and that all charges related to her suicide attempt and the investigation that followed are dropped," Strangio continued. The ACLU represents Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense that was first filed in 2014 over the department's refusal to treat her gender dysphoria.
"Hundreds of thousands of people spoke out in support of Chelsea, and now the government is finally agreeing to provide her with the health care treatment that she needs," Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in that group's news release, "but now that the Army is acknowledging Chelsea deserves this treatment, it's even more outrageous that they're still threatening her with solitary confinement for charges related to her own suicide attempt. It was the government's refusal to grant Chelsea access to needed health care that led to her suicide attempt in the first place." Manning's supporters have started a petition demanding that the charges be dropped.
Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act in 2013 and then began serving her sentence at Fort Leavenworth. Her attorneys have filed an appeal seeking to reduce her sentence.